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Snow removal risk reduction

By:
  • Darryl Beckman
- Posted: April 28, 2016
From a risk management perspective, ice management is the most challenging aspect of operating a snow and ice management company. The vast majority of legal claims I defend arise from injuries allegedly caused by slip and falls on ice. As the owner or operator of a snow and ice management company, consider applying these simple best practices:

Complete a site visit. Visit every job location when you are considering bidding on or accepting a new job. Fully understand the physical characteristics of the job site, including what may make this job unique or challenging, including drainage areas and high pedestrian and vehicular traffic. When pricing the job, make sure you are billing a reasonable amount for what needs to be performed, so you are financially able to properly service the site.  

Discuss the details. Before starting any job, engage in a discussion with the property owner or management company to ensure you completely understand the required services, including timing. Before renewing the contract, and before each new winter season, talk with your customer and make sure services were performed to satisfaction and address any concerns. 

Have a contract. Make sure you have a contract for services, and read it before signing. The contract can be one page and basic in its terms, but there must be a written contract. Do not sign a document you do not understand. The contract should contain basic job requirements, including when services are to be performed, responsibility for follow-up services, monitoring and inspection, and pricing.

Clarify responsibility. Review the service contract for defense and indemnification language. Although I don’t caution against accepting any fair contractual terms, I do caution against agreeing to defend and indemnify for the negligence of another party. It is almost always a mistake to agree to defend and indemnify anyone for their own negligence. 

Know the expectations. Understand whether pretreatment or presalting is allowed and or expected. Whereas pretreatment or presalting may greatly enhance the ability of the snow and ice professional to clear a site, many businesses in today’s tight economic conditions hesitate to allow this service due to cost concerns.

Outline follow-up services. A clear and unambiguous understanding of responsibility for follow-up services, monitoring and inspection is required. Many lawsuits arise from confusion or disputes over responsibility for services the days after storm events. You must understand whether you are responsible to return to a job site to inspect and or monitor for the formation of ice from melt-and-freeze conditions. Understanding responsibility for services the days after storms events is essential. Whether the inspection is performed immediately after snow clearing and deicing services are performed, the day after services are performed or whenever weather conditions warrant, you need a clear understanding of inspection responsibility.

Be timely. Promptly address problems, including customer complaints or service requests following storm events, and make sure you immediately remedy the situation. I frequently see lawsuits arising from injury after slipping due to ice formation from melt and freeze after snow clearing. When the management company presents a complaint or service request, they must be addressed. Do not wait for an injury to respond to a complaint or service request.

Perform inspections. Always inspect your work before leaving a job location, and document your inspection, including the employee performing the task and the time. Document and make your customer aware of any areas you could not address, for example, areas in a parking lot blocked by vehicles. Do not ignore a potentially dangerous condition.

Update insurance. Make sure you have a valid and effective policy of insurance covering snow-clearing operations. I emphasize confirming snow clearing is covered under your insurance policy, since some cover landscaping services but specifically exclude snow-clearing operations. Performing snow and ice management services without insurance coverage is extremely unwise.

Maintain records. Keep records of all services in a safe and convenient location. From a risk management standpoint, it is important to keep these records in the event of a claim.

Darryl S. Beckman founded Beckman Ogozalek Paglione Londar. Learn more at beckmanlawgroup.com or email Darryl@beckmanlawgroup.com.
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